France Tries to Contain Protests by Farmers as Outrage Spreads

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Protests by farmers angered by complex regulations, administrative hassles and low wages spread across France on Friday, blocking several highways, snarling traffic for miles and forcing the country’s new prime minister to tear up his schedule and head to a remote farm in the region where the demonstrations began.

Gabriel Attal, the 34-year-old prime minister who took office this month, arrived late in the afternoon in southwestern France to try to ease the tension.

“Without our farmers, we are no longer France,” he declared at a cattle farm in Montastruc-de-Salies, in the Haute-Garonne region. He appeared intent on convincing his rural audience that its angry message had been received, even as some tractor convoys inched closer to Paris.

Mr. Attal said that the government would scrap plans to reduce state subsidies on the diesel fuel used in trucks and other farming machinery, and he promised that it would significantly cut back the time-consuming bureaucratic regulations farmers must follow. For example, 14 different regulations on hedges would be merged into one.

“Our farmers want to be in their fields, not in front of their screens,” Mr. Attal said, his notes resting on a bale of hay.

“We are going to fight with you,” he added. “We are going to fight for you.”

Mr. Attal also announced that the authorities would strictly enforce laws meant to guarantee a living wage for farmers in price negotiations with retailers and distributors. He said emergency aid would arrive faster, including for those whose cattle are sickened. At the same time, President Emmanuel Macron would push for exemptions from some new European Union rules.

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France Tries to Contain Protests by Farmers as Outrage Spreads

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